This article can be found in the current issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs regarding Cities, Networks, and Urban Policy.
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Using big data to examine the effect of urbanism on social networks, by Cheng Wang, Omar Lizardo & David S. Hachen
Sociological theories suggest that urban life affects human sociability in negative ways. People in urban areas are expected to have fewer and weaker ties than those in rural areas. Rural areas should have proportionally more local ties, whereas urban areas have stronger nonlocal ties. We test these hypotheses using comprehensive large-scale data from a mobile phone company in Spain. We examine urban and rural differences in terms of the average number of ties and the composition and strength of local vs. nonlocal ties of subscribers in 6,124 postal codes. Consistent with urbanism theories, networks in more urban areas are smaller but the effect is weak. What is more pronounced are urban–rural differences in the composition and strength of local and nonlocal ties. There is a tradeoff between strength and number of ties. In urban places where local ties are weaker, there are more such ties, whereas in rural places where local ties are stronger, there are fewer local ties. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of the results.